“I see racism as sinful,” Youngstown Bishop George Murry, S.J., told the First Friday Club of Greater Akron on July 7. “And the only way to change hearts is through the grace of God.”
He said bishops have issued pastoral letters on the evils of racism, noting three things:
- Racism exists and is an indigenous part of our landscape.
- It is contrary to the Gospel.
- As baptized Christians, we have the moral responsibility to work to end racism.
“Prejudice plus power equal racism,” Bishop Murry said, adding, “It is rooted in the belief that one race is superior to another.
He said racism can be personal, institutional or cultural. African Americans, Hispanics and Asians often are those affected by racism, “because they look different,” Bishop Murry said. ”Some feel that people of color are somehow deficient or defective.”
He explained that in the Old Testament, we learn that every person is made in the image and likeness of God and that we all are children of God. Therefore, those who believe that one race or nationality is superior to another violate God’s teaching.
Recent events, including the election of some officials, may lead us to believe that racism is on the decline, the bishop said. “But that is not true.” He said hate speech, instances of violence and the gap in wages, all of which contribute to racism, still exist in America.
“The decision to drive past an excellent school to go to another one because the first one had mainly Hispanic students; the decision of a police officer to follow a black male; apprehension about going into the city. These are all examples of racism,” Bishop Murry said.
“This relatively new millennium can be a chance for us to say we won’t tolerate racism any longer,” the bishop said. “We must rely on God to end racism.” He said we need to come to conversion, to turn to God, to make a commitment to change away from sin so that our eyes are opened.
“Conversion changes the individual and the individual changes society,” he said. “Prayer is powerful. It’s a way to raise racism up; we should pray for an end to racism.”
Bishop Murry said churches and parishes are a way to welcome all – different races, different nationalities – and ways to teach children to welcome those who are different than us.
“It’s amazing how few people know anyone of a race or background different than theirs. We need to identify racism in the community and work to end it,” he said.
His suggestions included identifying companies with racist practices and not doing business with them – but letting them know why. He also said we should elect officials who are committed to social justice, which means researching candidates and their positions on a variety of issues.
In response to a question about whether he has experienced racism in the Church, he replied, “Yes, I have. It was painful and I hope I’ve learned from it.”
Bishop Murry said we need to be more welcoming outside the doors of the churches. “The evangelism paradigm needs to shift – we need to go out into the community and invite people into our parishes. Don’t be afraid to invite those of different skin colors.”
When asked how to address disparities in the justice system, he acknowledged that there tends to be a disproportionate number of blacks in the system, but he said voting, which is a great privilege, can help. “Find out where a person stands on the issues. As Catholics, we may look at abortion, but we also need to look at social justice issues. Look at the candidates and learn where they stand on the issues,” he said, adding that social media also can be a tool to help spread the word of disparity and to work for change.
He said it will take effort to end racism, but it’s something we need to do, because “Racism denies the unity that we share in God.”
For more information on Bishop Murry, visit the Diocese of Youngstown website